We spent the morning cleaning the house, clearing pathways and packing everything we required to head back to town. At around 3 pm, we took the narrow trail leading to Thangappan’s house. A deep hush fell over the sylvan thickness just as the woods echoed the music of roaring thickets in a distance. As wild swerving branches marred the slumber of its creatures, we walked through the fringes of the forest amidst prattling insects and chirping birds.
No sooner than later we approached the village and heard someone call out our names. Thangappan stood outside his house waving frantically at us. He had spotted us moments ago walking through the jungle. We went to his house and saw a few roosters and hens pranced above his courtyard, pecking at each other. “I raise them for eggs,” he said pointing at them. Behind him, a nervous young man shuffled towards his father and tried to muster a smile. His name was Alesh Kumar. This was the first time we met any of Thangappan’s children.
We set our bags aside and sat down to talk. Thangappan told us that he had spoken to several villagers and most of them couldn’t grasp the relevance of the Lantana-livelihood project. “These are people who are now accustomed to making a quick buck through labour work. They don’t fully understand the potential of this project or why they should be involved,” he said and further added, “Besides, they are reluctant to learn anything new. We need to make them realise that this would perhaps secure a brighter future for ourselves and our community. We won’t have to leave our homes or abandon our families for money anymore.”
We were quite relieved that he had complete clarity on the vision of the project. He took personal interest in reaching out to tribals and said that it was only a matter of time before people came forward to partake in the initiative. He also promised us that he would stand by us till the very end. “I understand the importance of preserving our forests. Lantana has destroyed our ecosystem. I will walk beside you to ensure that your dream becomes a reality. My entire family will support you. We have struggled for far too long. May be this is our way out,” he said with a smile.
Having lived with different communities for several years, we were aware that community-development projects are faced with an initial set of challenges wherein people find it difficult to comprehend the intentions of an outsider. It all ultimately boils down to trusting another human being. It takes time for any community to accept a new person and truly understand for themselves whether the individual or a team of individuals mean well or are they trying to exploit them under the pretext of social welfare. Hence, Thangappan’s input came as no surprise to us.
Under normal circumstances, such initiatives always start with a small group. And, as it begins to shape up, more and more people come forward to be a part of the project. Thangappan told us that there are around ten people who are willing to learn a new skill. And, he was quite confident that it would slowly spread within the community. “All we require is a bit of hope. Once we have that, nobody can stop us from achieving what we need,” said Thangappan as he straightened his shawl.
So far, we weren’t sure if we’d get any support from the tribal community. We didn’t know if people would be willing to place their trust in us – two outsiders who hail from different parts of the country. But this tribal man’s determination to pursue this project was all what we needed that sunny afternoon to conquer our fears and strengthen our resolve to make it happen.
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502